NATALIE WOOD by Gavin Lambert


A Life
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An easily familiar biography of the actress, from a personal friend who fails to connect some of the critical pieces in her puzzle.

It’s clear from the get-go that screenwriter, novelist, and biographer Lambert (Mainly About Lindsay Anderson, 2000, etc.) is in Wood's corner. In his telling, she was a pure, instinctive talent brought low by those around her who, knowingly or not, released the demons within. Or, in the case of her manipulative stage mother, simply crippled Natalie by blurring the line between fact and fantasy. Once she had made the unlikely jump from child star to adult star, the boogies crept out in great supply, leading to personal and professional failures. Yet what also marked Wood, Lambert amply demonstrates, was a vast reservoir of acting ability. Handed cut-rate roles by Warner Bros.—Lambert knows well how to paint the ratty behavior of the major studios, which felt they had the right to destroy careers—she not only overcame but often elevated them. When given the opportunity to stretch herself with fine material in Rebel Without a Cause, Splendor in the Grass, and Love with a Proper Stranger, she shone. Wood could handle satire too, as witness Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, and she harpooned the Harvard Lampoon when they voted her Worst Actress. Yet her industrial-strength insecurities (thanks to mom, Lambert convincingly asserts) led her to seek approval in all the wrong places and test those closest to her, namely, Robert Wagner. Not surprisingly, Warren Beatty and Christopher Walken don't have anything of value to say regarding their relations with Wood, which leaves the stage to wine, vodka, and pharmaceuticals. She couldn't have asked for a worse supporting cast.

Full of informed and intelligent observations regarding both Wood's mindset and the politics of Hollywood, but ultimately a wearying, depressing portrait. (65 photos)

Pub Date: Jan. 9th, 2004
ISBN: 0-375-41074-0
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2003


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